When the news came this off-season that the Packers would be moving Clay Matthews back to the right side, I did a little jig (ok, since I’m Italian, it was more of a tarantella).
Watching Matthews speed rush the passer from the left side the last year, there was something missing. The initial explosion was still there, but once engaging the right tackle, something strange was happening – usually one of two things. Either Matthews would get stood up and lose momentum, or lose his balance and end up on the ground. In either case, Matthews was easily handled and posed no threat to the quarterback.
Fast forward to this season and Matthews’ speed rush from the right side includes not only speed, but a violent punch, low pad-level and much better balance.
So is Matthews just a better speed rusher from the right side? Um, maybe…
In his rookie season, when Matthews played right outside linebacker, he recorded 10 sacks, despite not starting until game four. In 2010, the Packers’ Super Bowl Championship season, Matthews was moved to the left side and finished with 13 sacks in 17 games, with another four in the playoffs. As we all know, Matthews’ production fell off in 2011, with only six over the course of the season.
But what didn’t fall off was his quarterback hits and hurries. in fact, they increased over 2010. This happened despite the fact that Matthews was given more responsibility in other areas in 2011. He played more in coverage, had more run game responsibilty and even was asked to shadow or provide contain on some of the more mobile quarterbacks the Packers faced. When he did get to rush the passer, Matthews was still generating pressure, but he just wasn’t completing the final task of dis-engaging from the right tackle. He basically wasn’t winning enough one-on-ones.
Lets take a look at some videos from last season’s Packers – Giants playoff game. In this first video, you’ll see Matthews looking to execute an outside speed move, but he’s never able to get any kind of punch or get under the tackle. Instead, he’s easily forced wide at arms length, and ends up losing his balance and slipping to the ground.